Renewable options for mines: How to refine your options?

Mining companies are now faced with difficult choices when it comes to refurbishing or creating new infrastructure to power their mines. There is now a much greater choice of hybrid and renewable generation options and making choices on these options can often be influenced by utopic ideas and great marketing, sometimes at the expense of common sense.
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Renewable options for mines: How to refine your options?

Mining companies are now faced with difficult choices when it comes to refurbishing or creating new infrastructure to power their mines. There is now a much greater choice of hybrid and renewable generation options and making choices on these options can often be influenced by utopic ideas and great marketing, sometimes at the expense of common sense.

Hence, the question pops up on what renewables to introduce and when is it best to introduce them. The continuing price fluctuations (mostly declines) and technology improvements make the choice of renewables a moving scale, whereas in comparison, conventional power plant equipment (gas and diesel) appears to remain steady and constant.

Renewables should at least be on the menu for mining companies by now and not dismissed in concept development or investigation phase studies. By the time the actual construction contracts are signed, the chance of renewables being more affordable and technologically more reliable is extremely high. Looking back over the last five years in Australia alone, the interest of wind, solar and Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) technologies in mines has grown exponentially.

There is a simple process to follow in order to identify if, and what, renewables may be suitable for your project or site.

STEP

INPUTS REQUIRED

1.       DEFINING BOUNDARIES:

 

  • Define your current and future load profile
  • Define the mine and project timeline
  • Define the available land
  • Consider any environmental or local site/approval constraints
  • Outcome: Project boundaries
2.       GENERATION:

 

  • Is there a renewable resource available? Which one and to what extent?
  • If not, eliminate the renewable option from future consideration
  • Is it mature enough to implement in the near future, if not when? What are the technology economic projections and how do they compare with fuel cost projections for conventional generation? Can renewables become viable?
  • What is the price or yield going to do in the future
  • Outcome: Short list of renewable technologies
3.       ENABLING TECHNOLOGY
  • Is system support required for integration of shortlisted technologies?
  • What kind of response, reliability or power quality is required?
  • Define the MVAR, MW, MWh required.
  • Outcome: BESS’s or system support requirements
4.       SUSTAINABILITY
  • Do the shortlisted technologies fit within your GHG goals or do your GHG goals define the size of your hybrid system?
  • Do renewables enhance fuel security (by displacing conventional generation)?
  • Outcome: Aligning the size of the renewable plant with strategic drivers
5.       TIMING
  • What is the optimum timeframe?
  • When is the best time to implement the renewable energy?
  • What can you allow for now to prepare for the future?
  • Outcome: Establishment of timing for technology injections
6.       BUILD FOR THE FUTURE:

 

  • What aspects should we include in the design of our first plant equipment? (e.g. spare connections for more renewables or enabling technology, SCADA, layout, size, resource monitoring)
  • What technologies should the scenario modelling include?
  • What are future pricing estimates?
  • Outcome: Future proofing current designs and infrastructure

The steps above provide a mining company with a preliminary assessment of renewables. The current industry view is to consider renewables as an “add on” to conventional power. The future of hybridization, however, is believed to consider replacing not only fuel but also capacity requirements. Whilst it is early days for miners to rely on renewables as part of their base load capacity, the future looks towards this possibility. In this case, the capital investment wouldn’t include the conventional generation + solar + BESS for instance, but it could include a hybrid of renewable technologies which would displace new investment in conventional power. The hybrid system is likely to include a variety of renewable technologies.

Focusing too heavily on technologies that are “hot” at the moment may distract you from other opportunities. We strongly recommend that when considering renewable generation, that you complete a thorough review of each available technology following the simple process above. Obtaining specialist advice on all technologies is a must.

By Joep Vaessen, Manager Power Engineering and Technical Director, GHD